Diana Potjomkina visited ARENA Centre for European Studies at the University of Oslo in the framework of a NORTIA Early-career Researcher Residency in January-March 2020. She is a doctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Ghent University and United Nations University – CRIS, working on multistakeholderism in the EU’s trade agreements (GREMLIN project http://cris.unu.edu/gremlin).
I am very grateful to NORTIA for enabling me to spend 1.5 months in Oslo (unfortunately cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic), and to the ARENA Centre for European Studies, Prof. Dr. Helene Sjursen and all ARENA colleagues for hosting me and allowing to discover some fascinating new horizons. Visiting ARENA, renowned for its theoretical and empirical work on democracy and EU external relations, was a very logical choice in the context of my PhD, which deals with inclusiveness of multistakeholder mechanisms transposed into foreign contexts. During my stay, I got particularly interested in the concept of political justice and its potential linkage to inclusion in multistakeholder bodies.
Inclusion/exclusion dynamics are a fascinating, and rather underexplored, avenue for research of multistakeholder bodies. The question here is not only who is included, but also how and to what degree, and how inclusiveness can be evaluated.
In my example, the EU, when implementing “new generation” free trade agreements, obliges its partner countries to develop multistakeholder bodies that monitor and provide recommendations on trade and sustainable development. Thus, the EU essentially transposes its own model of inclusion into foreign contexts. The most institutionalized of these bodies are Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) who are expected to “comprise independent representative organisations of civil society in a balanced representation of economic, social, and environmental stakeholders”, and to provide advice to the governments of both parties (example of Georgia, EU-Georgia Association Agreement 2014). Formally, the DAG could be deemed inclusive, but when can we really speak about “meaningful” inclusion?
The concept of political justice understood as “mutual recognition”, originally developed at ARENA (https://www.sv.uio.no/arena/english/research/projects/globus/), helped me to identify a normative benchmark for assessing the inclusion in multistakeholder bodies. From this vantage point, it is not enough to merely invite the influential stakeholders. It is imperative to give everyone affected “due regard” and “fair hearing”, so that no group dominates over another “on the basis of morally arbitrary features” (Eriksen 2017). If we apply this to multistakeholderism, we can assess whether stakeholders, including vulnerable and marginalized groups, are truly enjoying the same status in consultation in spite of any structural injustices they may be suffering more generally, and whether the opinions of the multistakeholder body are actually taken seriously both at the national level and by the EU. If the consultation process is not politically just, it can have a countereffect and contribute to a vicious circle of exclusion.
My theoretical framework is still to be refined, but I am indeed very grateful for the opportunity to exchange opinions and get more familiar with the fabulous work being done in Oslo, and for the generous assistance and comments supplied by Prof. Dr. Helene Sjursen, Dr. Johanne Døhlie Saltnes and other colleagues at ARENA.